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Finally taxes do some good

As part of its deal to put together a majority coalition — and therefore a government — The Guardian reports, New Zealand’s National Party has agreed to a demand from the New Zealand First Party for repeal of the country’s “generational” tobacco ban due to come into force in 2024.

The ban — a “world first” that has since been emulated by Britain and lobbied for in other countries — would have forbidden anyone born after 2009 from buying cigarettes. Ever. For life.

The excuse offered by the incoming government is that it needs tobacco tax revenues to “pay for” tax cuts elsewhere.

On one hand, I don’t buy that excuse. Tax cuts don’t need to be “paid for”. Even setting aside the standard libertarian objection to taxation — it’s just plain theft/extortion and can never be justified — a decrease in tax revenues can always be “paid for” by cutting spending.

On the other hand, the smoking ban was a no-good, very bad, evil and stupid idea in the first place.

Repeat after me: prohibition of substances never works, at least if the goal is to decrease or eliminate the sale, purchase, possession or use of those substances.

By the time the US repealed alcohol prohibition, a higher percentage of Americans were drinking more — and “harder” — booze than before it began.

By the time US states began repealing cannabis prohibition, more Americans were using that particular plant than before it was banned.

You have probably been hearing for some years now about an “opioid crisis”. While that alleged problem is tied to legal prescription drugs, the go-to alternative is heroin, and it is beyond doubt that a higher percentage of Americans use that drug now than used it as of 99 years ago when it became illegal.

Yes, I’m citing the American experience, but Kiwis are presumably no more prone than Americans to obey laws forbidding them to eat, drink, smoke, snort, inject or otherwise ingest the “Evil Substance of the Week”.

Making it illegal for those born after a certain date to buy or use cigarettes will not stop those born after a certain date from buying or using cigarettes. In fact, the evidence of history says that smoking rates will likely increase, if for no other reason than that “black market” cigarettes can be profitably sold for less than the existing “legal” ones, given insanely high tax rates on the latter.

Smoking is already dying out on its own, with no need for laws to force the change. Social stigma is certainly part of that. So is the advent of “vaping” and the use of non-tobacco nicotine pouches. They are cheaper — although government tax farmers are trying to “fix” that — so far seem to be far less unhealthy, and don’t stink up the places where they are used like tobacco smoke does.

Heck, I quit smoking six months ago, after 44 years of tobacco use — 40 smoking, four “chewing”. I am still using low-nicotine pouches but may eventually quit those, too.

Taxation is terrible, but probably neither as terrible nor as stupid as prohibition.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Centre for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Centre for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism

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Published December 02, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated December 01, 2023 at 1:53 pm)

Finally taxes do some good

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